Yorkshire Art Journal’s first Contemporary Feature focuses on the remarkable sculpture of Jennifer Tetlow, a Yorkshire-born contemporary artist who resides in Lastingham, in a lodge on the edge of the beautiful North Yorkshire Moors. Surrounded by wildlife and working within a group of agricultural buildings, Tetlow is settled in a rustic environment that entices her to study from nature, working outdoors whenever possible. This way of life leads to the formation of contemporary works that emit timeless expression. Jennifer’s artwork lures the viewer to drift into a daydream of the verdant North Yorkshire countryside.
I was initially drawn to Tetlow’s work by the way in which she treats the stone; this sculptress’ work has a certain solidity, and she does not attempt to conceal, but highlights, the character of the material in which she works. She remains especially aware of the fact that this stone is what we stand and live upon.
“Having a block of Yorkshire sandstone in front of me to carve, is connecting
personally with the very fabric of my world. It feels instinctive, it is home.”
Her sculptures are sometimes faithfully polished, others are noisier, with visible markings of their making. She allows us to experience the nature of the stone and the beauty of its unpredictable character, as seen with ‘Bee Eater’ (below.) The piece of stone selected by the artist contains pale grey wavy lines; Tetlow encourages the exploration of stone’s properties. The lines wave around the bird’s neck, adding definition to the form and inspiring thoughts of feathers. The rock on which ‘Bee Eater’ perches allows us to explore the rusty orange, rough exterior of the stone in contrast with its smooth blue-grey interior, adding to our intrigue in the properties of sculpture and its ability to be carved to imply life, juxtaposed with the comparatively inanimate matter on which this creature sits. The white vein links the bird to the stone, just as Jennifer’s work reminds us of our link to the matter beneath our feet.
Discussing another of her works, entitled ‘Flighty Bird’, Tetlow states: “The piece of stone had lovely colouring, showing mottling and striations, telling of its formation millions of years ago, with varying deposits and layers of sediment.” This gestures to the affinity she holds with her surroundings, and her deep consideration of the tendencies of stone.
“My birds come from wishing to convey what has touched me when I’ve encountered a bird, or flock or behaviour. The experience of seeing wildness is intense for me, it moves and affects me – which then travels down my arm and through the chisel.”
I enquired as to what drew Jennifer to sculpture. She explained that a chance encounter of men working within a quarry-bottom, dressing wall stones, had a significant impact on her. She offered this description:
“The sound of their hammers on chisels, and the sound of stone ‘pitched’ away, chips landing and the rhythm of the work, was entrancing. It was music – you know the sort of music that drives in through your sternum, straight into the centre of your being, and has its way with you, clenching, twisting, extruding, punching and sublimely stroking.”
Tetlow is self-taught, heightening our intrigue, while drawing us to consider her mindfulness of fellow artists past and present. Her blog gestures towards possible artistic affinities, such as Sir Jacob Epstein, who created a selection of dove sculptures early in his career.
The artistic relationship between the works of Epstein and Tetlow can be found in the serene curved forms of their birds, coupled with the nostalgic classical tone reflected in their choice of white materials; she refers to Epstein’s birds as tender and romantic, a description which can just as easily be applied to her ‘Owl Chick’ (above,) which consists of such soft, clean lines. Both artists’ pieces are temptingly tactile in their smooth and flowing forms.
Tetlow draws from local resources in the creation of her work. ‘Owl Chick’ is formed from Tadcaster Limestone; it is creamy and allows for a soft finish, while inspiring us to contemplate the significance of a local artist working with materials from the very ground beneath us. She is conscious of the materials’ relation to the earth, but also of her creatures’ habitats. “I felt my otter should be in water, so I waded out to a stone mid-stream.” She relays the efforts she went to in placing her ‘Otter’ (below) in his rightful home. This otter blends harmoniously into its environment, aided by its delicate contours and the natural veins in the soapstone.
Jennifer’s intuitive empathy to her surroundings and to the past is best exemplified by the following. “Whilst carving alabaster pieces for my exhibition, I learned that in the past whale oil was used to polish the stone – so I carved a whale as a little thank you.” This represents the artist’s deep consideration of the materiality of her sculpture, and its place in history.
Being academically accustomed to reading about ancient sculptors whose work is rarely, if ever, paired with writings by the artist, it is refreshing to wander through Jennifer’s blog, in which she pays careful attention to core academic concerns regarding the nature of sculpture. She publishes small posts relating to familiar classical pieces as well as her own initial drawings and studies, including articles addressing the step-by-step formation of her works. This is useful for aspiring sculptors, art historians, and for anyone who is interested in the processes involved in the creation of sculptural objects. Her preparatory drawings are fascinating and moving in their quiet simplicity.
Tetlow creates a range of visual material, exploring the natural world so far as creating figural representations of the human form. This is where she engages with the innermost thoughts and emotions of human beings. These are such sweeping and stirring works that conceal identity, expressing more than specific details ever could.
“The shapes I make are about how I feel – and I call them birds or figures.”
Tetlow’s ‘Figure Pointing’ (below) illustrates a crouching, gesturing figure, who appears to bury its head to its shoulder. The simplicity and lack of facial features allows for an open reading; her figural works inevitably inspire different thoughts for each viewer. This work could express shyness, shame, fear, coyness, playfulness, denial, naivety, or something completely different; it depends on your state of mind when looking. The anonymity of Tetlow’s figures makes them all the more absorbing.
Yet there is perhaps a sense of disassociation to some of these figures. ‘Figure with Flowers’ (below) seems strikingly distanced from its surroundings; placed onto a plinth, its colour creates a stark and lonely contrast with the lush fauna that it sits within. There is a tension to Tetlow’s work; in places it can be read in terms of our contemporary division and retreat from the natural world. Yet Tetlow’s organic sculptural approach ensures that we contemplate and revel in the intrinsic link between man and the natural world; a link that is inescapable.
Jennifer mentions two upcoming exhibitions. In Wensleydale she will show wildlife pieces, including ‘Owl Chick’ and new pieces made especially for the exhibition. Later at Priestley’s, York, she will show her new work, including sculpture that continues her exploration of pollinators, insects and soft-bodied forms, in new stones. Details can be found on Tetlow’s website.
1. Jennifer Tetlow, Bee Eater. 2012. Carved in Opal Stone, 12” x 8” x 15”. Private Collection.
2. Jennifer Tetlow, Owl Chick. 2013. Carved in Tadcaster Limestone, 14” x 7” x 8”. Currently at Wensleydale Galleries for their March exhibition.
3. Jennifer Tetlow, Otter. 2008. Carved in Polyphant (Cornish Soapstone,) 15” x 10” x 7”. Commissioned – Private Collection.
4. Jennifer Tetlow, Whale. 2013. Carved in Alabaster. 11” x 4” x 3”.
5. Jennifer Tetlow – bird sketches. Source.
6. Jennifer Tetlow, Figure Pointing. 2003. Carved in Yorkstone (from Britannia Quarries, Morley.) 22” x 14” x 16”. Private Collection.
7. Jennifer Tetlow , Figure with Flowers. 2002. Carved in Yorkstone, 23″ x 17″ x 16. Private Collection.
Katherine April Caddy, 20th February 2014.